Vagn Holmboe: Solo and Chamber Works for Guitar
22 February 2013
American Record Guide
Vagn Holmboe (1909-96) is the most prominent Danish composer after Nielsen. Apart from some preludes in my library, I was unaware that he did anything more for guitar, so I was delighted to find this well-stuffed CD of his music in excellent performances.
Holmboe’s style reminds me of Frank Martin— it’s essentially neoclassic, with enough dissonance to identify with its century, but never atonal. It’s beautifully crafted music, with expressive passages balanced with witty ones. There are reminders of Stravinsky, and he shares Bartok’s devotion to folk music. And he came to the guitar late—the earliest works are the two sonatas, both from 1979, when he was 70.
All these works are miniatures—none lasts as long as four minutes, and most are just one or two. He avoids superficiality by grouping the miniatures into larger works. His two sonatas are five and six movements. And the intermezzos are of a similar character, with enough complementary unity that they could be thought of as a third sonata. Parlare del piu e del meno (an Italian idiom, roughly meaning “to talk about this and that”) has a touch more complexity and variety of mood.
The Duo Concertato is for violin and guitar; one might say for violin or guitar, there are so many passages where the players alternate. It’s a beautifully balanced work, a real duo rather than a lead and an accompaniment, and Sivebaek and Hansen make a convincing case for it.
But my favorite music are the two sets for recorder and guitar. The Canto e Danza makes no attempt to create an archaic sound for the archaic instrument, but it’s delightful. Moods shift from the plaintive to the playful. The final set of folk tunes can’t avoid evoking the past, which diminishes their charm not a whit. The songs are from various spots—France, Denmark, England, the Ukraine, and Israel. The settings are beautiful, and the guitar part is made into a counterline rather than a simple accompaniment. Sivebaek and his colleagues play this music with love and expertise. I’m happy to have discovered it, and I’ll return to this disc often.